Since last summer, WKBW-TV (Channel 7) investigative reporter Charlie Specht has been the most visible TV news leader covering the story of sexual abuse allegations in the Buffalo Diocese.
Now he is going to be a big part of a national TV program that is taking a deep dive into the church scandal here.
Specht’s award-winning work with photojournalist Jeff Wick will be highlighted in an upcoming edition of ABC’s “Nightline,” which is carried by Channel 7 at 12:35 a.m. weekdays.
ABC hasn’t given the program an air date, but it is expected to run before the end of the month.
In a telephone interview, Specht said he called a “Nightline” staffer to suggest the program look into the controversy in the Catholic Church here and expected that to be the focus. But after the program did some interviews, including one with Bishop Richard J. Malone, it decided to also highlight the personal story of Specht, a Catholic who has a younger brother, Mike, studying to become a priest.
“I went from pointing them in the right direction with my reports to now becoming one of the subjects,” said Specht, a former Buffalo News reporter. “They changed the focus. They were genuinely interested in the controversy in Buffalo.”
Specht’s latest award for his reports, “Fall From Grace: How Buffalo’s Bishop Hid Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo,” came last week at the national Investigative Reporters & Editor Award (IRE) meetings. He and Wick previously won a first place New York State public service award from the Associated Press and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting.
Here is what the IRE judges wrote when announcing the latest award: "Taking on a sitting bishop in real time is not an easy task. Reporters were able to win the trust of an insider in an institution that is known for its locked door of secrecy and obtain crucial smoking-gun documents proving the ongoing cover-up of abusive priests. The reporters, themselves Catholics, faced personal retribution in their community. Outstanding production values made a document-heavy investigation come alive."
Specht has been interviewed twice for the “Nightline” program.
The interviews were done by Peter Madden of the program’s investigative unit and by Emmy Award-winning correspondent David Wright, who was born in Buffalo. Footage was shot for the program of Specht eating a meal at his home with his wife, Shannon, and their three young children.
“The timing has been good,” said Specht. “It is the first time I’ve been able to evaluate my feelings and process how this has challenged how I feel about my faith.”
He said “Nightline” also interviewed whistleblower Siobhan O’Connor and an accuser of one priest.
Of course, the last thing the diocese probably would want is more national focus on a story that already was the subject of CBS’ “60 Minutes” last fall.
Asked what he thought Malone would think of the focus being on the Channel 7 reporter who has sharply questioned him at news conferences, Specht had a quick response.
“His face will probably turn beet red,” said Specht. “It won’t make him too happy.”